With cap tight, B's face tough decisions

BOSTON -- Tweaking the roster and not making major changes to an already strong hockey team was the theme for the Boston Bruins as the organization prepared for this offseason.

Both team president Cam Neely and general manager Peter Chiarelli admitted as much during separate press conferences at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. Now, with the NHL draft this weekend in Philadelphia and free agency quickly approaching, the Bruins understand the position they’re in.

With the salary cap expected to be around $71 million, the Bruins already have roughly $67.5 million committed to their roster for the 2014-15 season. According to capgeek.com, the Bruins also carry $4.75 million in overages into next season, which gives Chiarelli roughly $3.8 million in cap space.

Chiarelli will need to maneuver and get creative with the cap in order to keep the Bruins’ winning core intact.

On Monday evening, the Bruins announced the signing of Niklas Svedberg to a $600,0000 one-way contract, which means unrestricted free agent Chad Johnson won't return as goalie Tuukka Rask's backup, a switch that will save the Bruins a bit of cap space. Johnson, an unrestricted free agent, made $600,000 last season but is in line for a raise after posting a 17-4-3 record, two shutouts, a 2.10 GAA and a .925 save percentage in 27 games.

The team already decided not to re-sign Shawn Thornton, but forward Jarome Iginla, defensemen Andrej Meszaros and Corey Potter are unrestricted free agents.

Iginla and the Bruins have had ongoing talks and Chiarelli said he hopes to re-sign the future Hall of Famer, but it’s likely the veteran forward would need to agree on another incentive-laden contract, similar to last season’s.

“I’m not going to comment specifically on negotiations,” Chiarelli said during a media conference call Monday afternoon. “We’d like to sign Jarome. He’s been a valuable player for us and it’s a good fit, so we’d like to sign him.”

If the Bruins can’t come to an agreement with Iginla, Chiarelli said he’d be ready to go in a different direction.

When asked if he had decided not to re-sign any of the other UFAs, Chiarelli said he was not at liberty to say.

“There may be one or two more. We’re in the process of doing that right now,” Chiarelli said.

The team’s restricted free agents include forwards Reilly Smith, Jordan Caron and Justin Florek, along with defensemen Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski. Chiarelli explained that he’s “more or less” decided on qualifying offers for the RFAs but the organization has until the end of the month on those decisions, so he will wait to disclose that info too.

While there are players eligible for compliance buyouts, Chiarelli said the Bruins would not exercise that option.

“We’re not going to use any because we’re happy with the guys that are under contract to us. They’ve given us good service and I don’t really want to use [buyouts] for those guys,” he said.

Chiarelli will gain some relief when the team places Marc Savard on long-term injury reserve, which will bank another $4 million for the Bruins. Chiarelli could decide to trade a few key components of the current roster in order to gain more space, and those sacrifices might be necessary.

“So we’re going to have to make some harder decisions this year,” Chiarelli said. “It’s something that we’re prepared to do and we felt that we could sacrifice this year a little bit because after this coming year, we’re going to have to probably pay someone like David Krejci more and we need some more room, so this year we’re in a lesser spot. We have Savard’s LTI that helps soften the blow, but we’re going to have to be a little more restrictive this year and we’re prepared to do that.”

While free agency officially begins July 1, teams are able to interview unrestricted free agents beginning Wednesday.

“We don’t plan on bringing anyone in, but that doesn’t mean we won’t talk to anybody,” Chiarelli said. “We’ll make some calls just to get an idea. We’ll talk about parameters, like we’re allowed to do, but at this time I don’t plan on bringing anyone in.”

Chiarelli said he’d be happy with the Bruins’ roster even if he doesn’t make major changes to it. It’s evident based on his past dealings that he’s not afraid to pull the trigger on a trade or a big-name free-agent signing, but he’ll act accordingly based on the market and the salary cap.

“There are good players available,” Chiarelli said. “Specifically for us, we’re not going to go full force into free agency. We’re probably going to take a step back and look at maybe lesser deals, meaning not the high-profile deals that might be available, partially due to cap reasons, partially due to chemistry reasons.”

It’s already been an active offseason and Chiarelli believes the reason for that is there are first-time GMs feeling their way through the market.

“Maybe that has resulted in a little more activity than normal, more conversation than normal,” Chiarelli said.

The NHL draft begins Friday night at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Currently, the Bruins have a total of five picks in seven rounds. Unless Chiarelli makes a trade prior to the team’s first selection, Boston will pick at No. 25. The GM said the organization has a small list of possible draftees, but he wouldn’t count out the possibility of trading the pick.

“Everything’s always available, and I would include that first-round pick,” he said. “We’re lower down in the first round and we’ll probably look at moving up a little or moving down a little, depending who’s available at that time. We have a pretty tight list right now. I’m not going to say it’s in play, but I’m not going to rule anything out.”

Leading into both the draft and free agency, Chiarelli said he’s pleased with the organization’s management meetings.

“We’ve had some real productive meetings with [director of amateur scouting] Keith [Gretzky] at the helm,” Chiarelli said. “He’s got a different perspective on things but he also knows what the Bruins ideals are and the ingredients we want in players. I have complete confidence in Keith in running this draft and we’ve got some real good guys behind him and above him that can really give him good lateral support.”